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Nezavisimaya Gazeta
November 9, 2001
Ideas Must Serve the Interest
A short discourse on terrorism, disinterestedness and banality of the Russian intelligentsia

By Aleksei Kiva

To quote Tolstoy, "Each nation is unhappy in its own way." The United States, for example, has sustained attacks by international terrorism, whereas Russia has long been tormented above all by internal terrorism. Almost every day sees terrorist assaults that are not so much political as criminal in nature. They take place not only in Chechnya, but also all over Russia, Moscow included.

Today, however, everyone is focusing on the problem of political terrorism and its most outstanding exponent, Osama bin Laden, a man with the face of a saint and the soul of a butcher. The question of questions is this: What causes terrorism?

I think there are two main causes. You could consider trouble in society or in the system of international relations (tyranny, violence, poverty, outside aggression, etc.) and the accordingly ugly reaction to this trouble as one source. Terror is a reaction to the Westernization, and specifically the Americanization, of public life in Muslim countries.

On the other hand, terrorism is impregnated with an idea. This idea is as a rule false, utopian, and frequently simply outlandish or even misanthropic. However, there are ideas and there are Ideas. The most dangerous one is the messianic idea, which in its time gripped the Bolsheviks and in the last few decades the Islamic fundamentalists. One of them is bin Laden, who was born into a rich family in a quite well-off country. The multi-millionaire bin Laden is obsessed by the idea of mobilizing the entire Muslim world for the fight against the "noxious" modern (Western) civilization under the banner of Islamic fundamentalism. This is to say he advocates a return to primitive Islam and the order of things that existed in the theocratic state founded by the Prophet Mohammad.

No small part of invaluable national potential accumulated for generations was dissipated in the [revolutionary] process.

When my colleagues and friends tell me about the venality of the present-day generation of the Westernized intelligentsia, which has betrayed the traditions of a Russian intelligentsia characterized by disinterestedness and selfless service to the people, I am both distressed and happy. I am distressed because in fact many members of the creative intelligentsia, the actual moral leaders in the fight for freedom and democracy against the Communist regime, have failed to withstand the temptation of power and the golden calf. Upon joining the ruling clan, they have turned their back not only on the people, but also on most of the intelligentsia, whose support launched them into orbit as the new elite.

I am also glad, though, because behind the "venality" of the prominent figures in the creative professions I see a tendency leading to a start in healthy social development. This development is based on a struggle that different social strata and professional groups wage for interests, material interests above all, rather than for unrealizable, unattainable, lofty ideals.

In effect, Russia went through two mutually exclusive and destructive social revolutions in the 20th century - the Communist and the radical liberal. No small part of invaluable national potential accumulated for generations was dissipated in the process. Cultivated by the Bolsheviks, the revolutionary idea wrecked the stage-by-stage process of democratization started by Tsar Nicholas II's signing of the October 17, 1905 "Manifesto on Civic Freedoms." The Socialist Revolutionaries' utopian idea of "land socialization," their emphasis on political terror, and the assassination of the architect of bourgeois reforms, Petr Stolypin, prevented Russia from completing the turn to market process before World War I. The subsequent series of assassination attempts they organized made the Bolsheviks resort to ruthless policies and cleared the way to the top -and to the state-sponsored terrorism - for the tyrant Stalin.

The process of party organizational development is proceeding actively today, if not actually nearing completion. And so, what do we see? Try as they might, the right-wingers have failed to unite, although the essential differences between the supporters of Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS) are microscopic. Both they and other liberal democrats take their cues from Western public opinion and advocate Russia's integration into the Western community. Their objective interests are practically identical.

What divides them? Precisely the Idea! The SPS leaders, though taking a critical stance on many problems of state policy, are nevertheless participating in the creation of the new Russia. The Yabloko leaders, in particular Grigory Yavlinsky, keep to the idea that was espoused by the pre-revolution intelligentsia. They preferred to be in opposition to any authorities because authority in general was evil. The idea is fallacious; it leads nowhere, nor does it contain any constructive principle. Is this not the reason why Yabloko is losing its influence, if is not on the verge of a split?

It is likewise an Idea that is preventing a left-wing unification. As far as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is concerned, the Communist Idea, which the left-wingers are still unable to give up, stands in its way in the sense that it hampers its transition to the social democratic positions and thus obliterates its historic prospects. The Communist parties in former socialist countries that have made this transition have returned to power, as in Hungary or in Poland.

The unification process is successful only in the center of the political spectrum. And it is successful because the centrists are pragmatic and moved by interest. They are least of all obsessed by some "super-valuable ideas." They were reproached more than once for possessing no clear-cut ideology. At definite stages in history, this turns out to be quite an asset, making them better qualified to see common interests, smooth over differences and find compromises.

It is not ideas but interests that sustain normal people in normal circumstances. They need food, clothes, timely and skilled medical aid, interesting work, opportunities for getting an education, going on holiday, traveling, etc. Ideas and ideals are also necessary, of course, but in the end they should serve people's interest, not the other way around. Ideas come to the fore when this interest is not satisfied.

cunning is of a completely different sort."

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